When Community Empowerment Association founder Rashad Byrdsong congratulated the 10 young men and women who graduated from his Strategic Training Employment Program, he told them they will not only be able to rebuild their lives, but their own communities also.

Byrdsong created the STEP course to address the double-digit unemployment rate in Pittsburgh’s Black community, while giving young people a chance to change their lives for the better.  

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D- East Liberty, said CEA is doing a great job giving young people the skills that can save their lives.

“You have to divorce yourself from the street, and marry yourself to your livelihood,” he told the class at their Aug. 15 graduation. “You should celebrate now. Be proud of what you’ve achieved, but get ready for the challenge ahead. There is no excuse, saying there is nothing to do, because you know there is.”

The program is primarily designed to take advantage of the Section 3 requirement for local employment on projects funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and trains students in math and blueprint reading, introductory carpentry, and includes hands-on and specialized training in drywall, finishing, metal studs, cabinetry and related fields.

That means projects like the Homewood Station Senior Apartments, and the coming Larimer Housing development—both partially funded through HUD—will need the kind of trained local workers CEA is producing.

But beyond that, these graduates and those from CEA’s previous three classes will form the nucleus of a growing community-based pool of labor ready employees that both public and private developers can access.

“Since the Homewood Station Senior Apartments development is happening right now in our community, we here at CEA want to position as many community residents and businesses as possible to participate in the development,” said Byrdsong.

Byrdsong said all of his graduates are employed, some with his own Ma’at Construction, others with companies like S & A Homes, Mistick Construction, PW Campbell and Masscaro Construction.

Byrdsong said, none of his graduates have yet joined any of the trade unions, but he is working to have the unions recruit them as apprentices.  

“Our focus is not just to get people in the unions, but to get people employed and earning a living while gaining experience,” he said. “We are working to develop a centralized clearinghouse depository database that houses and identifies MWDBE and Section 3 resident and business concerns and will be available to contractors and subcontractors to access skilled labor. This way they can’t continue to say they don’t know where we are.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@new­pitts­


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